Discovering the Artist Within

Nicole’s Adventure: Became an artist in acrylics; bent my brain in a direction I never knew I would find talent.

Why did you feel it was important for you to do this?

I didn’t realize, at the time, that it would be such a discovery. I was in a stressful job, I had two small children, and I had been on “go” for a long time.

My job was very demanding, but personally things had been kind of wild too. Between the births of my sons, my sister became very ill and required a kidney transplant. I donated a kidney to her when my first son was 16 months old and got pregnant again about a year after recovery.  A whirlwind of a time.

I never articulated it at the time, but in hindsight I think I started to feel like a dispenser, of sorts.  Giving out all my energy at work, giving birth, nursing, transplanting. I was climbing the ladder at work, loved the recognition but starting to feel conflicted. My work was intense, innovative and high-pressure. Keeping that pace, and managing a family at home demanded passion from my gut to keep it all going. I started to feel a gap between effort and reward.

A friend invited me to an evening of exploration.  Lupe Rodriguez, an artist and former frequent guest/host on CBC Radio had agreed to take a group of us on an artist’s discovery mission:  A tour of the Works on Paper at the AGO  and an art lesson at the OCAD immediately thereafter.  I didn’t know I wanted to get into art.  I really just needed to get out of the house and do something lovely and social with the high likelihood that wine would be served and if I was lucky, something snacky and cheesy. Lupe showed us about 6 pieces lying on tables in the WoP gallery, and asked us to go stand beside the work that drew us in.  Almost all 10 women chose different works. We had to describe what we loved.  Some of us couldn’t articulate it; it was just attraction.  Lupe educated us on each artist, the technique and the media.  Then over to OCAD, we began drawing and painting still life images of fruits, veggies, whatever, first in pencil, then ink, then charcoal, then watercolour, then pastel, then acrylic… The same image over and over again.  By shock, I found I had talent, loved Acrylics and Pastels and felt an incredible freedom from the exercise.  The wine was pretty good too.

Sadly, Lupe passed away a few years ago.  I still attribute my journey back to her; she had a beautiful way about her.

What was the risk for you – what worried you about going forward?

I wanted to pursue this new passion for painting but I was terrified to enroll in an art class.  The class would undoubtedly be full of Art History and Fine Art Majors who might be getting back into art, or who were looking for the help of a teacher to work on a serious body of work.  To be clear:  Up to this point I had painted a lemon and a pear.

How did you overcome the worry (emotionally)?


I really felt I had discovered something. The drive to do something with it was powerful.

How did you physically mitigate the risk (as opposed to overcoming it emotionally?

Again: Wine.

I jumped in and joined a course at the Avenue Road Arts School, where my kids were taking Art. I loved the way the teachers inspired the kids.  I enrolled and didn’t think about it until I showed up to class. Of course, I coerced my friend Cathy to go with me!

What did you gain from the experience?

I opened up a side of my brain I was not using.  I learned that what you think you are should never drive what you can be.  I grew up with a very creative and artistic sister and Mum.  My dad was an engineer.  I never thought I could be or would be creative.  My leanings were always more academic, languages, math and science-related.  By the time I graduated from University I had a French and Political Science degree.  I was programmed to believe I was not creative.  No one discouraged me from the artistic side, they never would have; it was me who just inherently believed this wasn’t my niche.

I now consider myself an artist.  I continue to pursue my works with confidence.  Every piece of art in my home is my creation and I have had works sold at auction.

It made me realize you can have it all in your life, just not necessarily all at the same time — when you have the urge to explore something it is likely because you’re ready for it, can accommodate it, and can succeed at it.  As long as the urge is there, don’t let any underlying insecurity stop you from trying.  If it doesn’t work, try something else. Or, try again.  Maybe the discovery isn’t yet complete.

What was the actual risk outcome?

The only risk I took was failure and invested/wasted time.  Both are subjective judgments; there was no real risk.

Was there a downside? (it might not be the thing you worried about) 

It was exhausting.  I took classes once/week for 3 hours. Using part of your brain you rarely use, and in such a departure from how you typically think, problem solve, and get to an outcome, hurts.

It actually hurt my head to turn from such an empirical, measured mindset to being more free, less structured, and experimental.

What should you have done differently, if anything?

I would not change a thing.  I had the gut feeling I should take the discovery further, I got the support of my family that I would be out one night per week, a friend by my side meant I would miss far fewer classes… it just worked.

The most important factor, however was that I adore my teacher.  She inspired me, she made me take risk, she appreciated my work, she valued that I didn’t come from the world of art.  A great mentor.

Would you do it again?


Any regrets?

None whatsoever.

Did it inspire any further adventures, accomplished or planned for future?

My kids want me to rock climb with them.  I tried it and made it 3 feet off the ground.  It didn’t turn out well but I did try it.

I just did the same discovery with Furniture Upholstery and I am loving it.

Hidden talent is an overused reference.  The art adventure reinforced my belief that you can have many different chapters in your life.  The artist in me was a realization that I can explore new and completely different directions in my career.  My next career will highly likely be something completely different than what I did for the last 17 years.

What are the 3 most important pieces of advice you’d give someone else interested in doing this?

1. Be specific about what you want to try first. i.e., I chose to take a course in Acrylic Painting on Canvas.  To venture out and say, I want to become an artist could have been too overwhelming, non-specific and perceived to be life-changing.  Start specific and small-scale.

2. Get the support of your family or a friend.  It’s too easy to give up something that is new and difficult.

3. Make sure it is a regular event for an extended period of time i.e., 1 or multiple times per week. Mastery and a full sense of your passion takes time.  Especially in art, a finished work you are happy with can take weeks or months.

Nicole’s next adventure became this:

I left my job a year ago. It was a move that was not provoked by a desire to exclusively pursue art. It was a buildup of pressure and strain to the point where I thought I would become very sick. It was also a deep desire to be more true to ME, what fuels me. What I’m good at… including an incredible sense of duty and gratitude to my parents and my husband and kids. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, kids are almost teens; I pulled the chute.

I have become much closer to my creative and more spiritually centred friends; those who are more career and finance-driven are harder to focus on.  Let me be clear, I love and admire my Bay Street and Wall street friends so much — the focus is really about finding out if the relationships in my creative circles align with what I really want to do with my “day job”. These creative friends tend to have the reaction of, “follow your passions and talents and it will all come together”.  My Bay Street friends tend to look at me with that pitiful but reassured gaze that I will come to my senses soon, and will go back to my old career.

I was very committed to my old work, loved the people I was fortunate to work with, and was well-rewarded financially.  I’m confident I am bringing the same commitment to what I do now — it is a wonderful opportunity for me that I am immensely grateful for.

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